- Implicit and explicit measures of spider fear and avoidance behavior: Examination of the moderating role of working memory capacity
- Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Background and objectives: Avoidance behavior is central to several anxiety disorders. The current study tested whether avoidance behavior for spiders depends on a dynamic interplay between implicit and explicit processes, moderated by the availability to exert control through working memory capacity (WMC).
Methods: A total of 63 participants completed an approach-avoidance task, an implicit association test, a spider fear questionnaire and a behavioral avoidance test that included an assessment of approach distance as well as approach speed. WMC was measured by a complex operation span task. It was hypothesized that in individuals with low WMC, implicit avoidance tendencies and implicit negative associations predict avoidance behavior for a spider better than the explicit measure, whereas in high WMC individuals, the explicit measure should better predict avoidance behavior than the implicit measures.
Results: Results revealed that WMC moderated the influence of implicit negative associations, but not implicit avoidance tendencies, on spider approach distance but not the speed of approaching. Although explicit spider fear directly influenced avoidance behavior, its impact was not modulated by WMC.
Limitations: Participants in our study were from a non-clinical sample, which limits the generalizability of our findings.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that implicit processes might become more pertinent for fear behavior as the ability to control such processes wanes, which may be particularly relevant for anxiety disorders given their association with lowered executive control functioning. As such, training procedures that specifically target implicit processes or control abilities might improve treatment outcomes for anxiety disorders.
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